Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bruno Castellucci Quartet - 18/01/2005, Brussels

I headed back to the Musée Charlier. By the same route, so I won't bore you by repeating the details. Still, I'd like to note that, in this country, so reputed for its surreal penchant and byzantine administration, some things remain clear and simple: for example, the Parliament is on the Rue de la Loi (Law Street). The museum is on the Avenue des Arts.

Yesterday featured two Dutch-language up'n'comers, today was about French-speaking veterans (okay, one of them was Flemish, and slightly younger, but still): Michel Herr on piano, Richard Rousselet on trumpet, Bas Cooijmans on bass, Castellucci on drums. I had the pleasure of getting to know Michel a few years ago, when I was working on the very early stages of the renewal of the Jazz in Belgium website and we held regular, marathon meetings, but this was the first time I actually saw him play live.

The concert was billed as a homage to Miles and, well, that's what we got. Not a radical re-imagining by any means, but an enthusiastic run through some music I haven't listened to in way too long. They started with a solid and clear "Summertime," then did "All Blues." AB was less indebted to "Kind of Blue" than to Miles's live performances of 1960 (the Olympia date with Coltrane is essential (for Coltrane), the Olympia date with Stitt from a few months later is great (for Miles)). Jimmy Cobb would unexpectedly (for those who, like me, only knew him from KOB) kick ass back then, so Castellucci was suitably tumultuous and hard-edged, with the tune being taken at a much faster tempo than on KOB.

Castellucci is a bit of a character (I remember hearing him threaten a disrespectful audience member with bodily harm from the massive Jazz Marathon stage set up on the Grand-Place, a few years ago) and you can sense it in his playing: he's totally happy, but he means business, too. Rousselet is a really fine trumpeter, but I couldn't help but think about one of Miles's qualities that I rarely see reproduced: his ability to seemingly knead the very matter of sound into whatever shape he wanted. Much more than a bluesy slur here and there, he might go through a series of mid-tempo notes and give each one its own attack, inflection, timbre and shape - while maintaining impeccable timing - to thrilling effect.

After a slightly perfunctory "Nardis," they shifted gears and went into the 2nd Quintet's repertoire. On "Footprints," the band got fiery again, even as trumpet and piano appropriately grew more spacious and less linear. Herr's colouring had hinted at this period from the start, so he slipped easily into a Hancock mode. Castellucci stretched out in his own way, exploring cymbal texture more. "Seven Steps To Heaven" was pretty straight-forward, but gave one of those small pleasures homages such as this give to those who are familiar with the music: on the bridge of the theme's reprise, instead of racing into uptempo swing, Castellucci unexpectedly (?) tapped out quarter notes at the original tempo, a sly move that lent the music an off-kilter air. I can't remember the title of the last tune they played from this period, but the melody's mix of short, funky phrases, elongated single notes, short, sharp bursts and long pauses posed questions and left the answers up to the listeners' imaginations.

The concert ended with "Tutu." Apparently, Miles's 70s music used to be rejected by the critical establishment, but that's not really the case anymore. His 80s stuff remains more-or-less on the sidelines, however. I expect that to change too, as the establishment's codgers continue to be replaced. Personally, I like albums like "Tutu" and even "Doo Bop" (in absolute terms, not as much as stuff from the 50s to the 70s, but this music has its own, unique rewards, such as foregrounding Miles's lyricism once more) and feel that those who reject or denigrate this period are reacting to the sound more than to the underlying music. Put in an acoustic context, "Tutu"'s amiable jazz/funk is really irresistable. Cooijmans in particular, impressively oak-solid and nimble-fingered throughout the concert, dug into the groove during his solo.

As we (the audience) got to our feet, the middle-aged woman next to me, who had obviously seen me taking notes, asked me if I liked the concert. I said that I had, but somehow knew that this conversation was going to go downhill, fast. Indeed, she then asked me if I thought the musicians had played well, authentically (she didn't use the word, but that was the idea), in the eyes of an African. A multitude of possible answers whizzed through my brain (along with, of course, a resigned "here we go again" feeling). First, I clarified that I'm not African. Incredibly, the woman followed up with something along the lines of "But you have the music in your blood." 2006, anyone? Then, I explained that, for me, afro-Caribbean music is quite different from Afro-American music, that New Orleans was a very cosmopolitan place, that whites have been playing jazz pretty much since the beginning, that jazz is rooted in folk music and that, as such, people around the world need to find their own folk music to add to their jazz, stuff like that, which is pretty banal to people crazy enough to discuss jazz online, but hasn't filtered out to the population at large, I guess. In the end, she seemed pleased and interested, so I think I managed to broaden her view from its initial "Jazz is essentially a black thing, and non-blacks are missing something in their playing." I was surprised how articulate I managed to be. I'm so much more used to writing about music than I am talking about it, that I tend to be borderline nonsensical in person.

Now, I'm waiting for the next time somebody asks me if I mind the cold. Or laughingly wonders why I would leave the sunny climes of Martinique to come here. Hey, I've been "here" (ie. non-sunny climes, not necessarily Belgium) for well over half my life. And... gah, I'd rather not get into it.